What are we training women for?
Updated: Apr 8
Let me be more specific (if equally provocative). My particular ‘we’ is, in this instance, those of us in conservative evangelical churches which affirm complementarian ministry. And though training can come in a wonderful diversity of shapes and sizes, I am thinking particularly about ministry traineeships, in which Christians spend a year or more serving a church whilst receiving theological training and gaining experience in local-church ministry. So with those as the parameters, I’ll ask again: what are we training women for? What are we hoping to achieve by encouraging them to become ministry trainees? And what are we hoping they will do when they are trained?
The question matters a great deal. After all, ‘The harvest is plentiful,’ says the Lord Jesus in Matthew 9:37, ‘but the workers are few.’ That enormous need remains today: according to the Joshua Project, 25% of the world’s population ‘have almost no chance of hearing about Jesus from someone in their own people group’. And, of course, it isn’t only the unevangelised who are in need of ministry – Christians must also be warned, encouraged and helped (1 Thess. 5:14). There is an abundant need to send out godly, gifted and trained workers – both Pauls, Timothies and Peters, and Priscillas, Tryphenas and Phoebes. In line with Matthew 9:38, we (as individuals and as churches) need to pray that more such workers would be sent out. And then, after prayerful discernment, we (as churches) need to identify appropriate people, train them, and send them out – just as Jesus does in Matthew 10.
This is where ministry traineeships come in. The application and interview process forms the identification stage; the one, two or even three years of theological and pastoral training, ministry experience and practical service are the training; and then – what next? According to 9:38’s 2021 Ministry Training Survey, in the last three years, 31% of trainees have gone on to gospel ministry positions; 10% have gone on to further theological training; and the remaining 59% began studying with or working for a secular organisation. But we don’t know how many women were in each category.
There are multiple reports of women completing ministry traineeships and then being unable to find a job whose primary aim is word ministry. In her recent blog post ‘She needs you to fix the leaky pipe’, Nay Dawson draws on her own experience and that of other Christians in evangelical circles. She warns: 'For many men and women their initial experience of paid ministry is life giving. For men there is often clear direction beyond this time and student work or theological college is like a stepping stone for future ministry. In contrast for many women, beyond these early years of full-time ministry they find themselves facing the sudden prospect of “ministry retirement'.
A woman involved in gospel ministry in central England observed that ministry trainees can struggle to find a secular job once their traineeship ends because they lack (recent) experience of the secular workplace. She pointed out that this is particularly problematic for the women because of the small number of ministry jobs which are open to them. Carrie Sandom expressed similar concerns during 9:38’s Maximise Conference in January 2021. Whilst giving thanks that, ‘in God’s kindness, there are more [ministry] jobs open for women now than ever before,’ Carrie also noted that, ‘For women, there isn’t the same sort of career path [in churches] as there is for men.’
Here are some numbers to confirm these reports.
This week I searched all the accessible websites of every church in England which is affiliated either to the FIEC or to ReNew (and are therefore both evangelical and complementarian). A number of these churches do not have a (clear) staff list available on their website. But 324 churches do. According to the personnel lists on their websites, these 324 churches currently have 773 individuals employed in word ministry jobs. Of these, 606 are men; 167 are women. That is, in FIEC and ReNew churches in England, 21.6% of word ministers are women. 78.4% are men. Or, to put it another way, in these churches, the male/female ratio among word ministry staff is approximately 4:1 male/female.
Whatever you make of these statistics in their own right, there is a huge issue when they are set alongside the ones for ministry trainees. Church websites aren’t necessarily the best place to get data on ministry trainees as they are neither leadership nor (usually) employees, and therefore do not fit into the common categories on ‘Who’s Who’ pages. Still, the FIEC and ReNew churches between them currently list 111 ministry trainees on their websites – and 55 of them are men; 56, women. 9:38’s Ministry Training Survey confirms this 1:1 male/female ratio for ministry trainees. In short, these churches are training an equal number of men and women for word ministry through ministry trainee programmes (and that is wonderful). But there’s not an equal number of jobs waiting for them at the other end.
So, what are we trainining women for?
The conclusion of this thought provoking article will be published tomorrow.
All the footnotes are available here.